The sitter, from Westchester, New York, descended from a prominent loyalist family: her grandfather Cadwallader Colden and her uncle James De Lancey had both been loyalist lieutenant governors of New York. In 1767, in New York City, she married Ralph Izard (1741/42–1804), only surviving son and heir of Henry Izard, of The Elms, Goose Creek, a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. Ralph had been educated from the age of twelve in England. He returned to Charleston in 1764 and lived principally at his plantation until 1771, when he and his wife settled in London. According to the inscription on the reverse of the canvas, Gainsborough painted this portrait in 1772, in Bath, a couple of years before he moved permanently to London. In 1774 and 1775 the Izards traveled on the Continent, and in 1777 the family moved to Paris for the duration of the Revolutionary War. Alice Izard remained there until 1784, when she went back to The Elms and gave birth to her fourteenth and last child. Her husband became a United States senator. After his death, she moved to Philadelphia, where she died in 1832 (see Mack 1999 for biographical information and other portraits of the Izards).
Various portraits of members of Alice Izard’s family belong to the Metropolitan Museum: a canvas by Matthew Pratt (57.38) and a miniature by George Engleheart (38.146.16), both of her mother, Elizabeth, as well as a pair of portraits by John Wollaston of her grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Cadwallader Colden (22.45.6, 7). In 1953 Ellis Waterhouse mentioned a portrait of Mrs. Izard by Gainsborough referred to in her husband's will of 1800 and said to have been destroyed in a fire in California. That work had descended to Mrs. Henry Fulton of New York, to whom it belonged in 1878. It seems likely to have been one of several copies, of which three others are known: an oval canvas of the same size as the present work, which once was ascribed to John Singleton Copley; a rectangular canvas with a feigned oval, also the same size, by the Charleston artist Charles Fraser; and a late nineteenth-century pastel. An engraving in which the composition was extended to show the sitter with a basket of flowers in her left hand also dates to the nineteenth century (Mack 1999).
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]